Developing a Practice Plan, Part One
(One of the most frequent questions I get asked in classes is, “How do we practice this stuff when we go home?” The short, easy answer, of course is simply to follow the appropriate POI course outlines in the appendices of Volumes One and Two of The Reluctant Partisan. They are laid out in a manner that allows you to use each block of instruction as a practice session. If you lay out the fundamental skills needed to complete each block, and use them for dry-fire practice, then when you go to the live-fire range, you can simply shoot the table of fire for that particular block. In a couple of months, you’ve worked through the entire program, and—hopefully—seen some impressive improvements in your skill set.
During the last block of classes however, I was asked at least once, in each individual class, to post an article specifically on how I set up my annual training plan and break it into cycles….This is the first installment of a Five-Part series on the subject. –JM)
In short, I divide the year into four quarters of three months each, and then I work through a three-block cycle, with each month dedicated to a particular training block. The quarterly training cycle includes three basic training blocks that, for the sake of convenience, I will label “marksmanship,” “core skills,” and “application skills.” Most of my regular training is my daily training focused on dry-fire training in the marksmanship and core skills blocks. That is because these are the foundation of skill, and if those two blocks are dialed in, the application is cake.
A typical live-fire training session will be composed of shooting 2-3 repetitions each of 2-4 specific drills designed to focus on elements of the current block of emphasis. An efficient training session, of course, should be set up in such a way that requires minimal shifting of the range set-up. A) this saves time, making my training more time efficient, and B) especially on public ranges, the less trips I need to make downrange to change the set-up, the safer I am from some knucklehead trying to show off for his wife or girlfriend shooting me out of stupidity. I’ve got a lot of shit on my plate, and I want my range trips to be effective, but I also need them to be efficient, so I make a concerted effort, if its a “working” range day, to be done in 45-60 minutes, at the outside (A “working” range day is when I’m there focused on my personal skills. A “non-working” range day is when I’m teaching the wife—although I generally try to maintain the same time constraints then—or when I’m at the range with friends and we’re just shooting different drills for fun and to spend time together, building frith.)
Every shooter with any length of experience is aware of some famous drills, has likely shot some of them, and probably has a favorite or two. It’s critical to understand however, that it is not this drill or that drill which is important. A properly designed practice drill is not about recreating specific combat situations. Instead, it is designed to achieve a specific training purpose. Generally, this is to measure your current level of skill and test your training progression, or to improve your skill. If a drill—no matter how well-loved—is not achieving that for your particular training focus, it’s pointless for anything beyond ego gratification.
This block should focus on your ability to make progressively more difficult shots, at progressively faster speeds. Many shooters fall prey to the lazy hubris of believing since they can shoot an “acceptable” group, at a given distance, they are “good enough.” A popular one in “prepper” circles is the 4MOA standard of The Appleseed Project (Meanwhile, at the last rifle course, in AZ, I was publicly berating myself for shooting a 2” group at 50M, from the squatting position…until I realized we were actually shooting at the 100M line for that iteration). That’s just not an acceptable mindset in the real world of gunfighting. You’re not going to be fighting the Battle of the Bulge (well, you might be, but we’re talking about a different Battle of the Bulge in this context), and thinking that you will be is mental masturbation. You should ALWAYS be striving to improve your accuracy and speed. Speaking objectively, there is no such thing as “accurate enough” or “fast enough.”
The balance between accuracy and speed is always going to be contextually subjective (that’s non-military speak for METT-TC dependent, by the way…).It’s subject to range, target presentation, and—above all—the limits of your personal skill and ability. This is why so much of your training time should emphasize making “impossible” shots in “impossible” times (Miss S, did you catch that?).
Core skills are those fundamental gunhandling and shooting skills that—along with marksmanship—are…wait for it…core to effectively prosecuting a fight with a firearm. This includes things like your drawstroke, or the presentation from ready with your rifle, reloading and other malfunction clearances, target transitions, and the other skills that will allow you to make each shot you fire a conscious action that occurs in a deliberate manner, but fast enough to solve the problem you are confronted with.
Application skills are those skills that allow you to translate your marksmanship and core skills into actual gunfight problem solving skills. This includes things like movement, use of cover and/or concealment, effective communication for working with a partner, safeguarding a principal like a non-combatant bystander or family member, while prosecuting the fight, and—the single most important skill in all of the gunfighting world—discrimination shooting with good, solid, accurate, rapid-fire thinking and decision-making under duress.
Critical Training Concepts
Perhaps the most critical training concept that you need to understand is that you’re going to fuck up. That’s WHY we practice! Lots of shooters—and I’ve had a lot of them in classes—have this ridiculous notion that if they screw up in training and practice, that they’re a failure. It’s as if they screw up, such as blowing a shot, or even shooting a “no shoot,” in practice, that they are somehow indelibly imprinting training scars into their neural motor pathways. BULLSHIT! You ARE going to make mistakes. Even the experts make mistakes. THAT’S WHY WE PRACTICE!!!!!!
Make your mistake. Then, analyze why the mistake happened, and determine how to fix the deficiency, and then move the fuck on. That’s the goddamned point, people. Seriously. The first two times I fired for qualification in the Army, I failed to qualify and had to shoot it again (actually, the second time was as a private in the Ranger Regiment, and I had to shoot the qualification table FIVE TIMES that day before I finally managed to meet the standard!) Fortunately, I had good mentors who taught me to take the time to analyze the problems, and figure out how to fix them. Over the course of the rest of my career, I managed to never shoot less than Expert, and honestly? I’m ten times or more a better marksman and all-around shooter now than I was when I was a soldier still.
Pushing Your Limits
Your dry-fire and live-fire practice should be about getting better. That means you generally have to push yourself to perform any given drill harder than you feel comfortable. If you’re not pushing out of your comfort margins, you’re simply not going to improve. When you push, you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to blow some shots. You’re going to fumble and drop magazines during reloads. You’re going to trip, fall, and face plant in front of people (don’t ask…). You’re going to shoot “no shoots” as you push to go faster on discrimination shooting drills. The point is to push yourself to your failure point, and then to fix whatever deficiency created the failure. The majority of your training, both dry- and live-fire, should be of this type. It’s critical to understand though, that it’s not just a matter of “go faster!” You’re trying to determine when and how to move faster, but you’re also trying to determine how to modify your techniques to allow you to make the shots you need to make, in the times you need to make them.
It may be about accepting a “good enough” sight picture to get the shot you need to make. It may be a matter of changing where or how your reload magazine is carried to improve the efficiency of your biomechanics.
I feel obligated to point out that being able to achieve a given task or skill component correctly, consistently, is a prerequisite to “pushing” your ability, however. If you can’t hit an eight-inch plate from the standing with your rifle at 100M, then there’s no point in trying to push to hit that eight-inch plate from the standing with your rifle at 100M, in <1.0 seconds. If you don’t have the basic motor pattern of your speed reload drilled in, so instead you fumble it regularly, then going faster is NOT going to fix it. Pushing can only come after you’re able to perform the skill on demand, under a time constraint. I’ll share one of my “Mosby’s Maxims:” “If you can’t do it on demand, then you can’t do it on demand.” So-called “game players” are an imaginary construct of people too lazy to show up and do the work.
When you push to the point of making mistakes, then it’s time to stop and pay attention to what your failure point is, and start “being mindful” of how to fix the problem. I used to tell people to “slow down,” but found that simply telling them to “slow down,” didn’t fix anything. They still made the exact same mistake, they just did it slower. Instead, it’s about shifting your mental focus from “going fast” to “think about what you need to do.”
Calling it “mindfulness” makes it sound like some sort of New Age, Zen, Hippie Horseshit, but it’s really not. Focus on the process, including the overarching reason for the process (killing someone before he kills you or someone else) and what you need to perform in order to achieve the purpose. It’s training for performance, rather than outcome. If you perform correctly, generally, you’ll achieve the outcome you are seeking.
Be In The Moment
This is closely tied to the mental-spiritual concepts we’ve talked about in some of my more recent articles. Sometimes, on your live-fire days, especially, you need to just relax, and shoot a scheduled drill without trying to push your limits. This is about just shooting the drill accurately, and seeing how you do. Don’t push yourself faster than what you feel you’re capable of doing flawlessly.
Often, shooters—especially eager novices—feel like this is an utter waste of valuable, limited training time. There are two distinct reasons I believe that taking the time to just be in the moment is absolutely critical, though.
The first is for your psychological resilience. Just like making advances in PT means occasionally backing off, lowering the weights, or slowing down your runs, to let your body recover, and avoid physical burn-out, your brain needs that rest from constantly pushing at its extreme limits occasionally too. This is why I cycle my training through the yearly quarters, and this is why we occasionally just chill the fuck out and shoot a drill to “see what we can do.”
The second reason is the “spiritual” part. When the time comes and its on you to “beat the bad guy,” you’re either going to be able to do so, or you’re not. Nothing you can do, in the moment, is going to change your skill level. You’ll either be good enough, or you won’t be good enough. If you’ve trained enough, and the other guy hasn’t trained as hard, or as smart, as you? You’ll probably be okay.
Ultimately though, you’re going to have enough on your mind, ranging from “OH SHIT! THAT DUDE HAS A GUN AND IS SHOOTING PEOPLE!” to the cognitive process needed to process data and determine if you can take a shot or not, or if you need to move to take a shot, etc. Your body is going to receive the command to execute, and it’s going to do what it is capable of doing, predicated on your training up to that point, at its own pace.
If you’ve let it do so in training, then two things result: A) you have mental confidence in your body’s ability to do what it needs to do, and you can focus on your information processing, and B) if you do feel yourself getting panicked into a rush, you can let yourself “be mindful” of the process, by focusing on performing, rather than worrying about the outcome. You really cannot miss fast enough to win. You can, however, miss fast enough to hit somebody’s six-year old kid nearby. Continuing to “push” yourself to push past the boundaries of your ability at that point will NOT fix the problem. You cannot fix the problem of smoking a kid by then shooting their playmates as well.
Drills come in two basic, distinct flavors, when it comes to time metrics. Some, like your marksmanship and core skills drills, will be set up in a specific way, and should generally always be set up the same way. These are drills designed to determine specific time and accuracy metrics, and this consistency in set-up allows you to assess improvements in your performance. In this article series, this type of drill will have very specific standards metrics, for both time and accuracy. The standards provided are all realistic, reasonable metrics, readily achievable in reasonable time frames, by anyone sufficiently motivated to train regularly (we’re talking like 10-20 minutes every day for dry-fire, and 45-60 minutes every week or every other week for live-fire range trips. Really, if you can’t slice 15 minutes out of your day to gain proficiency with your firearm, you have no business carrying a firearm any-damned-way!).
Many of the application skills drills however, are not designed to be set up in a specific way, and doing so actually detracts significantly from the value of the drill. This, of course, means that comparing time metrics from one set-up to another is largely pointless. For these, a general time frame of how long it should take competent shooters to complete the drill will be noted, but the best metric you can take note of on these are things like time to first shot/hit, split times between shots (how well are you managing recoil and driving your gun back on target?), and how clear your communications are between partners, or how correctly you executed your decision-making drills.
This is intended to be at least a four-part article series. Part Two will cover the drills I use for dry-fire and live-fire training to improve marksmanship, under the description provided in this Part One. Part Three will cover Core Skills and the drills I use for those. Part Four will cover Applications Skills and some of the drills I use for improving those. Part Five will be an actual layout of a quarterly training plan for pistol, carbine, or both (we’ll see how tired I am of writing this series by the time I get there…)
In the meantime, I seriously urge you to consider some of the conceptual ideas covered in this Part of the series, as you go about whatever practice you are currently doing.